Windows 3.1x

Windows 3.1x was a major release of Microsoft Windows. Several editions were released between 1992 and 1994, succeeding Windows 3.0. This family of Windows can run in either Standard or 386 Enhanced memory modes. The exception is Windows for Workgroups 3.11, which can only be run in 386 Enhanced mode.

Windows 3.1

Base version

Windows 3.1 (originally codenamed Janus, of which two betas were published), released on April, 1992, includes a TrueType font system (and a set of highly legible fonts already installed), which effectively made Windows a serious desktop publishing platform for the first time. Similar functionality was available for Windows 3.0 through the Adobe Type Manager (ATM) font system from Adobe.

Windows 3.1 was designed to have a large degree of backward compatibility with older Windows platforms. As with Windows 3.0, version 3.1 had File Manager and Program Manager, but unlike all previous versions, Windows 3.1 and later support 32-bit disk access, can't run in real mode, and included Minesweeper instead of Reversi.

Windows 3.1x contains a color scheme named Hotdog Stand This color scheme contains bright hues of red, yellow and black. The color scheme was designed to help people with some degree of color blindness see text/graphics on the screen easier.

Versions with special font support

A special version named Windows 3.1 for Central and Eastern Europe was released that allowed the use of Cyrillic and had fonts with diacritical marks characteristic of Central and Eastern European languages. Microsoft, which introduced its own codepage ('Windows-1250') and supported its use in violation of many countries' ISO standards (e.g., the official Polish codepage is ISO-8859-2, which was ignored by Microsoft but is supported by contemporary Internet Explorer versions). Similarly, Microsoft also released Windows 3.1J with support for the Japanese language, which shipped 1.46 million copies in its first year on the market (1993) in Japan.

Windows 3.11

Microsoft also released an update for Windows 3.1 which (aside from installing new files) changes the Windows version displayed in "About" dialog boxes to 3.11. Thus, Windows 3.11 isn't a standalone version of Windows, but rather a software update from Windows 3.1, much like modern Windows service packs. For those who did not own Windows 3.1, full disk sets of Windows 3.11 were available at the time.

Windows 3.2

Microsoft released a Simplified Chinese version of Windows for the Chinese market. The updated system identified itself as Windows 3.2. The update was limited to this language version, as it fixed only issues related to the complex writing system of the Chinese language.

Windows 3.2 was generally sold by computer manufacturers with a ten disk version of MS-DOS that also had Simplified Chinese characters in basic output and some translated utilities.

Modular Windows

Modular Windows is a special version of Windows 3.1, designed to run on the Tandy Video Information System.

Windows for Workgroups

Windows for Workgroups was an extension that allowed users to share their resources and to request those of others without a centralized authentication server. It used the SMB protocol over NetBIOS.

Windows for Workgroups 3.1

Windows for Workgroups 3.1 (originally codenamed Kato), released in October 1992, features native networking support. Windows for Workgroups 3.1 is an extended version of Windows 3.1 which comes with SMB file sharing support via the NetBIOS based NBF and/or IPX network transport protocols, includes the Hearts card game, and introduced VSHARE.386, the Virtual Device Driver version of the SHARE.EXE Terminate and Stay Resident program.

Windows for Workgroups 3.11

Finally, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 (originally codenamed Snowball) was released on 11 August 1993, and shipped in November 1993. It supported 32-bit file access, full 32-bit network redirectors, and the VCACHE.386 file cache, shared between them. The standard execution mode of the Windows kernel was discontinued in Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

A Winsock package was required to support TCP/IP networking in Windows 3.x. Usually third-party packages were used, but in August 1994 Microsoft released an add-on package (codenamed Wolverine) which provided limited TCP/IP support in Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

Limited compatibility with the (then-new) 32-bit Windows API used by Windows NT was provided by another add-on package, Win32s. There was a rumor that Microsoft didn't want to increment any mainstream Windows 3.1x version to something like "Windows 3.2" because it could be scrambled with the Win32 API or otherwise distract consumers from upgrading to some 'real 32-bit OS' like the then-upcoming Windows 95 was. In fact, only for the limited Chinese market did Microsoft release a true Windows 3.2 version (see Windows 3.2 section).

Windows 3.x was eventually superseded by Windows 95 and later versions which integrated the MS-DOS and Windows components into a single product.

On 9 July 2008, it was announced that as of 1 November 2008, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 for the embedded devices channel would no longer be made available for OEM distribution.

Full OS or MS-DOS shell?

Windows 3.x requires pre-installation of MS-DOS (or a compatible operating system), which must be booted on PC startup. Windows is started as an application program, and can be terminated at any time, returning the user to the MS-DOS prompt. MS-DOS also provides device drivers for certain tasks such as CD-ROM or network access, specifically remote disk drive or remote printer access; these drivers run in real mode. In 386 enhanced mode of Windows for Workgroups, the networking drivers are running in protected mode. Windows requires specifically written applications, and has a specific on-disk file format, which is much more complicated than the format of MS-DOS executables. It has many of its own device drivers and for the most part its own memory management system.

Other considerations include the fact that MS-DOS does not isolate applications from the hardware and does not protect itself from applications. The memory-resident part of MS-DOS is akin to a library of routines for dealing with disk-type peripherals and loading applications from them; an MS-DOS program is free to do whatever it desires, notably replacing or bypassing part or all of MS-DOS code, temporarily or permanently—Loadlin uses this very method to boot the Linux kernel from DOS. Windows took advantage of this, and the degree to which bypassing is performed increases with most newer releases. Windows 3.1 and its 32-bit Disk Access superseded the BIOS code for accessing disks, while 32-bit File Access of Windows for Workgroups 3.11 bypassed the native MS-DOS code for accessing files. This opened the way for Windows 95's support for Long File Names, which made DOS file code and related 8.3 filename utilities obsolete.

Furthermore, an MS-DOS program running in the Windows environment can take advantage of those features of Windows which are natively unsupported by DOS. An MS-DOS program running on Windows for Workgroups 3.11 automatically uses 32-bit File Access rather than the native MS-DOS file and disk access routines. Similarly, a specially written MS-DOS program running on Windows 95 can access long file names.

Windows NT and its successors represent operating systems completely independent of MS-DOS legacy and their kernel is entirely composed of 32-bit code. MS-DOS (and Windows 3.x) programs run inside virtual DOS machines, which are implemented over the normal system API rather than underlying the system. Alternatively, Windows 3.1x is able to run in emulators such as DOSbox.

DR-DOS compatibility

The installer to the beta release used code that checked whether it was running on Microsoft-licensed DOS or another DOS operating system (such as DR-DOS). The code ran several functional tests that succeeded on MS-DOS and PC-DOS, but resulted in a technical support message on competing operating systems. If the system was not MS-DOS, the installer would fail. Digital Research, who owned DR-DOS, released a patch within weeks to allow the installer to continue. Microsoft disabled, but did not remove, this warning message for the final release of Windows 3.1. When Caldera Systems bought the DR-DOS from Novell they brought a lawsuit against Microsoft over the AARD code which was later settled.


Windows 3.1x introduced new possibilities for applications, especially multimedia applications. During this era, Microsoft developed a new range of software that was implemented on this operating system, called Microsoft Home, Microsoft Bob being one of the programs.

Applications that were then exclusively dependent on Windows 3.x have helped fuel the sales of Windows before it became an OS of its own.

Program Manager

Program Manager was included in all versions of Windows until Windows 2000. A limited version is included in Windows XP but has been completely removed from Vista.

If Program Manager is started under Windows XP, it does not appear to run, but when a .grp file created for Windows 3.1 is processed, it converts the .grp file contents to a Start Menu folder.

Internet Explorer

Microsoft released versions of Internet Explorer from 2.0 up to the first release of Internet Explorer 5.0 for Windows 3.1.

Internet Explorer for
Windows 3.1 Versions
2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0
2.01 3.01


External links

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